Marcus Rashford’s deflected effort in the third minute of injury time was enough to give Manchester United victory over Wolves at Old Trafford and move them second in the Premier League.
The game seemed destined for a draw when Rashford took possession on the edge of the area, virtually next to the goal-line.
But after cutting inside the box, the England man let fly with a left-footed shot that deflected off Roman Saiss to leave Rui Patricio completely wrong-footed.
It was tough luck on Wolves, who were worthy of a point, although they had Patricio to thank for an earlier save when he denied Bruno Fernandes from the best chance of the match.
Saiss was disconsolate at the end as he laid on his back, trying to take in the defeat, knowing he had come close to scoring himself when his header was turned away by David de Gea.
United are now two points behind leaders Liverpool having played the same number of games, which is as close as they have been to the top of the table at this stage of the season since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
That the winner should come so late could have been predicted.
Since Wolves returned to the top flight in 2018, these sides have now met eight times in league and cup. There have been four draws and two wins each, none of which has been by more than a single goal.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer predicted a tight affair and so it proved as his defence were the equal of a Wolves attack that continues to struggle without Raul Jimenez, while the home side failed to inspire despite the return of Paul Pogba alongside Fernandes in midfield.
Unusually for him, Fernandes was wasteful when Mason Greenwood picked him out with a deep cross just before half-time.
Such opportunities tend to find the net at the Portuguese’s feet, but this one was turned away by Patricio.
Rashford and Anthony Martial wasted chances and although Edinson Cavani did have the ball in the net, the Uruguayan was correctly ruled offside.
There were appeals for a penalty for handball in the build-up, but VAR adjudged it was accidental by Wolves skipper Conor Coady.
Neto’s not bad
Although the night did not end well for Wolves, it was another good one for Wolves’ young forward Pedro Neto.
Manager Nuno Espirito Santo has been trying to play down expectations around the 20-year-old, who is only just starting to get exposed to senior football after a handful of appearances in his native Portugal for Braga and also during a loan spell at Lazio.
Glenn Hoddle and Jamie Redknapp have both spoken highly of Neto in recent days, and while his diminutive stature was ill-suited to the centre-forward role he was handed, there was more evidence at Old Trafford of a potential star in the making.
Either through his own shot that tested De Gea or the inspired leave that created one for Ruben Neves, Neto shows he is always thinking.
The reverse pass that found Rayan Ait-Nouri in a packed penalty area was inspired even if it brought no reward.
Neto is getting used to the physical side of the game too – he was accidently caught in the face by Nemanja Matic, which brought a shout of pain as the game continued without him.
He might have done better when he raced clear just before half-time, only to find Harry Maguire in his way as he tried to step inside to create more room for a shot.
Neto continued to find pockets of space after the break before he was eventually replaced.
To underline the evolution of this Wolves team, 18-year-old former Liverpool defender Ki-Jana Hoever made his first Premier League start, as did 20-year-old Vitinha – a pass that nut-megged Pogba was the highlight of his 54-minute appearance.
Not that it will be much consolation after such a disappointing end to the evening for Wolves.
Manchester United conclude their festive programme against another Midlands side, Aston Villa, on Friday, 1 January (20:00GMT). Wolves are next in action at Brighton on Saturday, 2 January (17:30GMT).
- 1de Gea
- 27TellesSubstituted forShawat 45′minutes
- 11GreenwoodSubstituted forMartialat 64′minutes
- 18Bruno FernandesSubstituted forMcTominayat 90+5′minutes
- 10RashfordBooked at 50mins
- 34van de Beek
- 11Rui PatrícioBooked at 73mins
- 20VitinhaSubstituted forPodenceat 55′minutes
- 28João Moutinho
- 7NetoSubstituted forFábio Silvaat 68′minutes
- 17Fábio Silva
- 22Nélson Semedo
Match ends, Manchester United 1, Wolverhampton Wanderers 0.
Second Half ends, Manchester United 1, Wolverhampton Wanderers 0.
Paul Pogba (Manchester United) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Maximilian Kilman (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Substitution, Manchester United. Scott McTominay replaces Bruno Fernandes.
Goal! Manchester United 1, Wolverhampton Wanderers 0. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Bruno Fernandes.
Foul by Harry Maguire (Manchester United).
Adama Traoré (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Paul Pogba (Manchester United).
Ki-Jana Hoever (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Fábio Silva (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Attempt blocked. Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Luke Shaw.
Foul by Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United).
Rúben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt saved. Rayan Aït-Nouri (Wolverhampton Wanderers) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by João Moutinho.
Foul by Eric Bailly (Manchester United).
Fábio Silva (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Offside, Manchester United. Harry Maguire tries a through ball, but Marcus Rashford is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Anthony Martial (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Paul Pogba.